UCLA’s New Hand Transplantation Program Helps Patients Regain Function

The UCLA Health System has launched the new UCLA Hand Transplantation Program to help those who have suffered the traumatic loss of a hand or forearm and allow them to regain function and improve their quality of life. Qualified candidates are now being sought for a clinical study of the procedure.

“Over the past decade, the exciting field of hand transplantation has resulted in excellent outcomes for patients, and we are excited to bring this program to UCLA,” Kodi Azari, MD, surgical director of the hand transplantation program and an associate professor in the UCLA department of orthopedic surgery and the UCLA Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, stated in a press release.

The first hand transplant was performed in 1998 in France, with the United States following suit the next year. To date, nine patients have received hand transplants in the United States; two of these surgeries were double hand transplants.

Azari was one of the lead surgeons on five of these successful hand transplants, including the first double hand transplant and the first arm transplant.

The new program is a partnership between UCLA’s transplantation services and its hand surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, orthopedic surgery, psychiatry, pathology, anesthesia, internal medicine, radiology, neurology, ethics and rehabilitation services.

Estimates from the 1996 National Health Interview Survey indicate that one in 400 civilian Americans is missing an upper limb, not including the number of U.S. military personnel missing hands or forearms due to wartime injuries.

“The new hand transplantation program will build a bridge between reconstructive surgery and our vast experience in transplantation medicine,” Sue McDiarmid, MD, a professor of pediatrics and surgery and medical director of the pediatric liver transplantation and hand transplantation programs at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, stated. “Both will benefit the other in this new endeavor in unique ways.”

Ronald W. Busuttil, MD, PhD, UCLA’s executive chair of surgery and chief of the division of liver and pancreas transplantation division — along with the administration of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center — immediately recognized the value of this new program for patients who might benefit from the clinical trial.

“We are at the beginning of a new frontier,” Busuttil stated. “Solid organ transplants are now routinely performed to save patients’ lives. Now we’ll be performing composite tissue transplants to enhance their quality of life.”

According to the press release, the purpose of the clinical trial is to confirm that the surgical techniques already established in hand transplantation are successful, to study the return of function in transplanted hands, and to study the effectiveness and safety of the anti-rejection drugs that will be necessary to ensure that the grafts are accepted by the recipient’s body.

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